Note: this feature was first published on The First Post on 11 November 2009. The First Post became TheWeek.co.uk in 2011, but the piece can still be seen in its original form on the Internet Archive.
Nasa has brought its considerable resources to bear against the widely held belief that the Earth will be destroyed by a collision with a mysterious planet on December 21, 2012. Nasa scientists have assured mankind that “nothing bad will happen to the Earth in 2012” in an article posted on its website.
The US space agency seems to have been goaded into publishing the ‘2012 FAQ’ because of the volume of questions it has received regarding the various outlandish theories of destruction being touted by websites in the run-up to this much-prophesied ‘Doomsday’.
But the fact that it was published in the week before the global release of the film 2012, won’t have done director Roland Emmerich’s spectacular end-of-days blockbuster any harm.
Nasa points out that the belief that the world will end in 2012 started with claims that Nibiru, a supposed planet discovered by the ancient Sumerians, is on a collision course with Earth. “This catastrophe was initially predicted for May 2003, but when nothing happened the doomsday date was moved forward to December 2012,” says Nasa.
The reasoning for the date change came from another (slightly less ancient) civilisation, the Mayans, whose ancient ‘long count’ calendar, which began in 3114BC, ends at the winter solstice of 2012 – the ‘warning’ we are supposed to have ignored in Emmerich’s film.
But don’t worry, says Nasa: “Just as the calendar you have on your kitchen wall does not cease to exist after December 31, the Mayan calendar does not cease to exist on December 21, 2012. This date is the end of the Mayan long-count period but then… another long-count period begins for the Mayan calendar.” (Of course, some would say the world ended for the Mayans in the 9th century AD, when their civilisation mysteriously collapsed.)
Having crushed the central conceit of 2012, Nasa moves on to quash other doomsday scenarios, before turning to the one depicted in the movie. Emmerich’s film latches onto the mainstream scientific theory of ‘polar shift’ – a magnetic reversal of the Earth’s poles – which happens every 400,000 years or so.
But in 2012, the hypothesis is stretched somewhat, to suggest that the Earth’s crust can shift significantly in a matter of hours – to the extent that the movement generates an Armageddon-grade tsunami that laps the foothills of the Himalayas.
Nasa’s opinion is: “As far as we know, such a magnetic reversal doesn’t cause any harm to life on Earth.” Although if you were a bird relying on the Earth’s magnetic field to navigate to your wintering grounds, you might not be so confident.
Towards the end of the FAQ, Nasa’s writer appears to lose patience with the crackpot theories, saying: “For any claims of disaster or dramatic changes in 2012, where is the science? Where is the evidence? There is none, and for all the fictional assertions, whether they are made in books, movies, documentaries or over the internet, we cannot change that simple fact.”
Unfortunately Nasa’s assurances are unlikely to soothe the fears of some conspiracy theorists, who believe the agency has been covering up its knowledge of the mysterious planet – and who will doubtless see this FAQ as another attempt to suppress the ‘truth’.
The only thing that might convince those people is for December 21 2012 to pass uneventfully. But even that might be too much to ask, since there are some who claim that the Mayan calendar actually ends in 2220AD. Of course, by then the scientifically more acceptable apocalypse of runaway global warming may already have done for us.